Monrovia — Vice President Joseph Boakai, the nominee on the ticket of the ruling Unity Party has been having marathon meetings over the past 72 hours as he zeros in on the naming of his running mate ahead of presidential elections scheduled for October, multiple sources close to the selection process have revealed to FrontPageAfrica.
Over the past seven days, several names have surfaced amid mounting concerns that the delay is causing jitters amongst key aides and supporters of the man who has been in the shadows of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the past eleven years.
Hints of the pick have been in the air for months with many of the VP's aides and supporters trumpeting and insisting on an ethnic ticket. Thus, Bong, Nimba and the southeast have come into the picture. Picking someone from his hometown is out of the question due to constitutional regulations.
Party chair Wilmot Paye told a gathering of supporters at endorsement in Buchanan last week:
"Today, that history has been clarified, that record has been corrected. This county belongs to the people who today have assembled; those who have learned the language of the sixteen ethnic groups of this country are not the true custodians and owners of this republic. And we are here today; the people of Bassa have established in no uncertain terms in irrefutable language, that this country as it marches forward after 170 years, the only way for Liberia is for the owners of Liberia to take charge of their destiny."
Paye added: "Edward Wilmot Blyden spoke years ago and said that this country belongs to the people who make up the majority of the population and the way to embrace them is to get assimilated into the rich cultures and traditions. Blyden spoke that; I'm not the one saying that here."
In invoking Blyden, regarded as the Father of Pan Africanism, Paye appears to have validated the rising influence of the People's Unification Party(PUP) whose members have been pushing the idea of a representation from Bong.
Blyden was a strong advocate against black and mulatto elites in Liberia who he criticized for clinging on to power.
Boakai himself has quietly told aides that he prefers a vice president that would be ready to step in his shoes in the event of the unexpected.
As the clock ticks and pressure mounts, FrontPageAfrica takes a look at a narrowed-down list of figures said to be under consideration.
GBEHZHONGAR MILTON FINDLEY(GRAND BASSA COUNTY), FORMER PRESIDENT PRO TEMP
UPSIDE: The former Senator and Pro Temp still enjoys strong support in the county and is still an influential player in the political terrain. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2005, Findley was a businessman, President/CEO of APPC, exporting cocoa and coffee.
Prior to that, he served as Mechanical Laboratory Technician, with the Franklin University and as an Assistant Manager, SHOWAC Corporation, Columbus Ohio. He worked for a while as an Office Assistant in Lund Sweden.
He holds a BSc degree in Electronic Engineering from Franklin University, Columbus Ohio and a MSc degree in Rural Development Sociology, Lund, Sweden. He also holds series of certificates in Swedish History, Economic History, Sociology and Swedish Law.
Findley served previously as President of the Association of Liberians in Columbus.
During his time in the Senate he served as Chairman of the committee on Post & Telecommunications Co-Chairman. He also served on the Public Autonomous Commissions committee, the Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry; the Labour committee as well as the committee on Rules, Order & Administration and the Executive.
DOWNSIDE: The Boakai camp has been toying for a while with the idea of Findley as a VP to the vice president. The goal, according to some aides is to tap into the votes and influence of Liberty Party's Charles Walker Brumskine in the vote-rich county. That appeared to be gaining traction and last week's endorsement and show of support organized by Findley's supporters for Boakai was seen as a litmus test. Although the results were mixed, some insiders were said to have not been convinced especially after reports surfaced that some of those in attendance were trucked from Monrovia and other places for the rally which was reportedly intended to show Findley's strength in the county. Findley is also said to have lost grounds in the hours after the rally amid concerns that he may have been too align with President Sirleaf and could be a tough sell for Boakai once campaign gets underway next month. The kicker for Findley though may be growing fears amongst key Boakai aides that he may bolt to Brumskine if he is not picked as the VP's running mate.
REP. EMMANUEL NUQUAY(PUP, MARGIBI)
UPSIDE: The lawmaker from District # 1, Margibi County came to the legislature as an independent but is highly regarded as one of the most influential voices on the floor of the lower house, especially since he helped craft the PUP. He was elevated into the powerful speaker's position on a white ballot following the ouster of former Speaker Alex Tyler.
Assuming the post in the shadows of the controversial Tyler, Rep. Nuquay has made restoration of the image of the lower house a top priority and has sought to ensure a massive transition of members from the 53rd to the 54th National Legislature. "The forth-coming 2017 general and presidential elections pose a looming challenge to members of the House," Nuquay added. He has also been pressing to ensure that proper coordination between the Legislature and the Executive be established for the good of the government and the people of Liberia.
Nuquay was an Accounts Trainee with the Prior to his elections to the National Legislature, Hon. Nuquay served as Accounts Trainee with the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC), prior to his election in 2012. He previously worked as an Accounts Clerk with the Ministry of Rural Development and also as a Rubber Broker. He later served as an Accounts Clerk with the Ministry of Rural Development and as Quality Assurance Officer and Quality Control Supervisor with the Weala Rubber Corporation. Rep. Nuquay holds a BSc in Economics from the University of Liberia and is currently a student at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law. He serves on the lower house's committees on Human & Civil Rights Co-Chairman: Judiciary Co-Chairman: Investment & Concession and Labour.
DOWNSIDE: Since taking over from Tyler, Nuquay appears to be settling in well although many are still critical of the performance of the members of the lower house. But it is Nuquay's sometimes ruthless persona that makes him unpredictable.
In February 2015, he survived punishment after three 'renegade lawmakers who were involved in a standoff at the Capitol Building that resulted into Rep. Bill A. Corneh being physically assaulted, were suspended.
Plenary suspended Margibi County Representative Roland O. Cooper for three months without pay for physically assaulting Rep. Corneh but spared Nuquay, who is at the center of the controversy that led to the standoff. According to Grand Bassa County Representative J. Byron Brown's Rules, Order and Administration Committee that investigated the altercation, "There was not enough evidence to link Margibi Lawmaker Nuquay." Personally, some insiders say Nuquay may be more comfortable maintaining his speaker's post than having an eye on the VP slot.
THE BIG GAMBLE: Nuquay has been lobbying hard to hold on to his speaker's post in 2018 when the lower house usher in new batch of lawmakers. But his quest to deliver the emerging vote-rich Margibi to Boakai is being threatened by ongoing tension following his endorsement of the PUP candidate Roland Cooper over the ruling Unity Party candidate Ben Fofana.
ATTORNEY SAMUEL KOFI WOODS
UPSIDE: Although born in Monrovia, Woods is often tied to the southeast. The former human rights activist, journalist, politician and academic is founder of the forefront organization which documented human rights abuses during the civil war. the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. He operated a radio program aimed at exposing improper arrests, unlawful executions and informing citizens of their civil rights. In 1994 Woods created the Forefront Organization in order to shed light on human rights abuses during the Second Liberian Civil War.
Woods came under fire when abandoned his activist's cloth for a post in the Sirleaf government following her inauguration in 2006. He was named Minister of Labour and later Minister of Public Works in 2009 following a cabinet shake-up.
The 1994 Reebox Human Rights Award winner and recipient of the Pope's human rights medal graduated with a Master of Arts in Development Studies, and a specialization International Law and Organization for Development at the International Institute of Social Studies under Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague, Netherlands.
DOWNSIDE: Woods may be a victim of his own making. Although boasting a stellar career as an activist, many in the Sirleaf administration are said to against Woods - and have reportedly made it clear to Boakai with threats of support for his presidential bid, according to sources. One source told FrontPageAfrica Saturday that there is a growing fear within the Sirleaf clan that Woods' human rights credentials might compel him to insist on accountability over the past twelve years, especially after his strong positions on NOCAL and other issues in recent years. Sources say Woods have hinted that his conviction and passion for justice cannot be negotiated.
THE BIG GAMBLE: Picking Woods, in the view of many could drive a deep wedge between Boakai and Sirleaf. It could mark a pyrrhic victory of sorts.
SENATOR HENRY W. YALLAH(PUP, BONG COUNTY)
UPSIDE: The Bong County Legislative Caucus head was one of 19 senators who recently endorsed VP Boakai's bid for the presidency. He has been a vocal supporter of the vice president, describing VP Boakai as "the man who the Liberian people can trust to develop their country".
The Senator although carrying the banner of the PUP won his seat under the banner of the New Deal Movement/National Democratic Coalition (NDC) coalition. He is an administrator, Farmer and has been a member of the Senate since 2012. He currently serves on the Senate committee on Information, Broadcasting, Culture and Tourism; Planning & Economic Affairs; Post and Telecommunication Member - Executive. He is also on the Defense, Intelligence, Security and Veteran Affairs; Lands, Mines, Energy and Environment; Public Corporation; Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries; Youth and Sports.
DOWNSIDE: Yallah came under fire following revelations in a report by the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) that three individuals - former Speaker Alex Tyler, Kettekumeh Murray and Bhophal Chambers faced prosecution in line with their alleged role in a questionable contractual agreement signed between the County Administration of Bong and the Liberia China United Investment Group. The audit report conducted by the Internal Audit Agency (IAA) reported shortcomings in the awarding of the contract for the construction of the BCTC to a Chinese company. An addendum to the contract increased the contract amount to a whopping US$7m, adding an additional US$3,210,150 to the initial contract amount. But an addendum to the contract indicated that Yallah, as Chairman of the Bong County Legislative Caucus at the time, negotiated and signed the contract despite little progress on the implementation of the terms of the previous contract, drawing criticisms about his judgment. Other signatories to the addendum contract included -Thomas K. Cisco, Project Management Team, Selena Polson Mappy, County Superintendent and Lian Zhi, General Manager of the construction company.
With concerns mounting over Boakai's ability to go after corrupt officials, Yallah raised eyebrows in a 2015 Bumper Show interview on state radio ELBC when he warned against the indictment of public officials without according them due process. Yallah was adamant in not joining the fray of indicting officials of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) for financial impropriety in the absence of an audit report. While noting that the situation at NOCAL was saddening, his comments that it would be prejudicial to jump to conclusion that the management team of the company's swindled its resources was seen by many as him siding with the establishment even after President Sirleaf took responsibility for the NOCAL collapse.
THE BIG GAMBLE: Picking Yallah from the vote-rich county could come pose some risk in a county that has already put the hands of three Vice Presidential candidates - Senator Jewel Howard Taylor(NPP), VP to Senator George Weah(CDC) and Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunteh, VP to Alexander Cummings. The fight for the Kpelle vote may be about to begin.
PRINCE JOHNSON: The former Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia leader of the civil war era now a Senator commands enormous support in his hometown but with war crimes charges looming, it is an area Boakai is unlikely to tread. ODDS: 10-1
SENATOR THOMAS GRUPEE: The head of Nimba County Legislative Caucus, is a favourite PYJ who has been in the mixed for quite some time. But the picking of Harrison Karnwea as running to Liberty Party's Charles Brumskine, it is unlikely that Boakai would turn to Grupee. Grupee is a member of the National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) and a former executive who serves on the Social Security, Pension and Insurance committee. He is also Co-chair of the committee on Labour; Transport Member - Ways, Means, Finance and Budget; Concession and Investment; Public Works and Rural Development. ODDS: 10-1
WILMOT PAYE: The ambitious Chairman of the ruling Unity Party has been on the radar for some time and despite hailing from the vote-rich county, many in the party have reservations about him, especially owing to his strong disagreement with the incumbent president.
SENATOR DAN MORIAS: The Senator from Maryland is a strong support of the VP and has been on the radar for a while. ODDS: 10-1
SENATOR PETER COLEMAN: The Grand Kru County caucus ran on the banner of the Congress for Democratic Change but quit over differences with the party. He serves on the Senate committees on Gender, Health, Social Welfare, Women & Children Affairs. ODDS: 10-1
Swirling around a sea of speculations, Boakai has for weeks now faced mounting pressure to name a running mate. Although, quietly he has told aides whoever he picks will be his choice, it is appearing likely that financial and political pressure from Sirleaf could force his hands. Findley, until last week was said to be a comfortable choice for the Sirleaf clan but internally some aides were not show the stomp in Bassa was convincing enough to put a dent in Brumskine's stronghold. In Yallah, Boakai could find the youthful sidekick some have suggested but whether he has the experience to step in in the event of the unexpected remains to be seen.
Not to be underestimated is the rising influence of the PUP. The newly-formed party which was the butt of the jokes when it first came to the fore in 2014 is rapidly becoming a major player and potential kingmaker, thanks to the influence of Nuquay and the much-coveted Kpelle belt.
For the foreseeable future Boakai appears decidedly undecided about the direction he wants to go. For some aides and many political observers and international stakeholders, whoever Boakai pick could make or break the wave of endorsements and momentum he has been riding of late. His candidacy, his quest and his political future hangs on his final decision, some say could come in a matter of hours - or maybe, days.